Why “Made for China” Doesn’t Work For Luxury Brands

How to reach Chinese millennials is a hot topic that was recently discussed at the annual International Luxury Conference organized by the New York Times.

In one of the panels titled “Caught between Gens X, Y and Z”, speakers discussed the unpredictable nature of Generation Z (a group that ranges in age from 15-24 years old). Different from Generation X and Y, Gen Z consumers tend to be emotional shoppers, caring more about particular products and their shopping experience more than they care about a product’s logo. This mentality has created confusion for luxury brands who pride themselves on promoting their brands’ history and heritage.

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During the panel, an audience member asked a question regarding Chinese millennials and their relationship with Chinese brands. She was worried western brands aren’t doing enough to relate to Chinese consumers, “If one day they become disinterested with European luxury goods and they turn their attention towards Chinese brands, then we (foreign brands) are going to have a big problem.”

One of the panelists, high-profile Chinese fashion blogger, Mr. Bags, gave an interesting answer, responding that foreign brands should not focus only on relating to Chinese consumers, instead focus on creating desirability. Chinese consumers are attracted to foreign brands precisely because of who they are — an aesthetic, brand culture, and philosophy that is uniquely western and not something consumers can find in Chinese culture. When a foreign brand designs products intended to resonate with Chinese consumers they are at risk of losing their attraction as a foreign brand.

Does this mean brands shouldn’t even try to become ‘China-friendly’ in the first place?

No, it does not, brands should still try to relate to Chinese consumers on a cultural level, however, this is not done by simply slapping a rooster or a panda onto a bag or making products bright red. Foreign brands are rarely successful at incorporating traditional Chinese elements into their designs. To become “China-friendly” they should reach for something deeper by finding ways to connect with Gen Z consumers on the emotional level that they are craving.

Recently, several brands have started to conceptualize this idea. In late October Prada showcased its 2018 Resort collection in a magnificent 1918 Shanghai mansion that had taken them six years to restore. The mansion, named Rong Zhai, was open to the public for a month-long period starting from October 17th and fans could book an appointment to visit via Prada’s Official WeChat account. According to Prada’s communications director Stefano Cantino, the restoration project is meant to reflect the brand’s respect for Chinese culture and build a channel for engaging dialogue between the East and the West. The site will continue to serve as a local cultural hotspot to host future events.

In 2016, high-end French cognac label Louis XIII celebrated China’s cultural heritage with the Heritage Past Present Campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to empower modern Chinese artists to bring ancient arts to life in new and innovative ways.

What is clear is that today’s millennials want brands with transparency, craftsmanship, and creative points of view. For them it’s not just about a logo — the experience of shopping, the meaning behind the product, and the brand’s distinctive style all contribute to the fabric of their personal identity. They seek meaningful interactions with brands, and brands such as Prada and Louis XIII are attempting to establish that connection.

This kind of connection isn’t formed overnight. It takes time and resources to educate young shoppers about the craftsmanship and history behind their purchase. But it’s worth it; Chinese millennials also value high-quality products, therefore learning about the effort that goes into making the product can have a long-lasting impact on their purchasing decisions.

Craftsmanship is a shared connection between the Eastern and Western cultures. Dedication to quality and attention to detail have historically been important elements of Chinese craftsmanship and, at the same time, these values are ingrained in the DNA of Western luxury brands. On a deeper level, purchasing high-quality luxury items evokes a sense of pride in what it means to be a young Chinese person and reflects the kind of Chinese culture they wish to see.

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Creative, Culture